Note on editorial method

Pages xxi-xxiii

The Port and Trade of Early Elizabethan London: Documents. Originally published by London Record Society, London, 1972.

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Method and form of the calendar

Although the port book's size precluded a full transcription the calendar aims to reproduce all the significant material in a simplified and systematic form. Only two categories of information in the original have been excluded from the calendar, while a third—the way the merchants or owners of cargoes are described—has been concentrated in the Index. Details of containers (e.g. bolts, fardels) were judged to be of little importance in relation to the space they occupy in the port book; and more space was saved, with rather more reluctance, by omitting the figures for poundage. The problem here is that although there is a fixed relationship of 1s in the £ between valuation and poundage, it is not always possible to calculate the latter from the former. In most cases it is: but where the valuation involved units of less than one pound the collector might be forced to round up or down his charge for poundage. For example, John Clint, who imported paper worth £14 2s 6d on the Mary George, the second ship in the calendar, paid 14s 1d duty. His was, however, the only consignment in the Mary George that did not allow an exact charge of one-twentieth of the valuation to be made. The Book of Rates naturally valued commodities so that the officials could work out the duty easily and exactly. A very close approximation of the poundage can, therefore, be reached from the valuations, which are recorded in the calendar, as are the tonnages for wine. Lastly, much space was saved by transferring the details of the merchants' trades, domicile or nationality to the Index.

The calendar also departs from the form of the original by consolidating shipments under the heading of each ship, and in the order that they were entered by the controller. This arrangement has clear advantages over the form of the port book, where a ship's cargo can be dispersed over many pages; and by dating the individual merchants' entries nothing serious is lost through this reorganisation. Appendix I, which lists the total daily entry of shipments, provides the only significant information that could be gained from the port book but not from the calendar.

The heading under which the cargo appears is made up as follows. First is the ship's name, followed by its home-port and tonnage. Next is the master's name and, in those rare instances when it differed from the homeport, his domicile; e.g. Richard Cornish of Ratcliff. The full heading is then completed by the port of departure, which is marked off from the preceding item by a semi-colon. Beneath this heading, which is often incomplete, the cargo is detailed as follows. After the folio reference to the first entry appears the merchant's name, followed by details of his shipment. As has been explained, the valuation is given but not the poundage. The day the shipment was entered is then recorded. This is also the date of subsequent entries until it is changed; and so on through the cargo. The last entry is preceded by its folio reference if it does not appear on the same page as the first.

Weights and measures

These have been converted where possible into meaningful and recognisable units. Fortunately, the Book of Rates, which has been made widely available through Willan's invaluable edition, explains the content of most of the original weights and measures, including the troublesome 'hundred' or 'c'. This can be a measure of weight—either metric or of 112 lbs—or of volume, with the quantity again varying; for example a hundred of stockfish contained 120. In a few instances the Book of Rates values commodities by units of measurement other than those in the port book. Thus spices like pepper and ginger, though valued by the pound, were also imported by the hundred and quarter. The valuation establishes that the hundred was, as one would surmise, metric, giving a quarter of 25 lbs. Similarly, the valuations prevented a possible error in converting bales of fustian into yards. According to the Book a bale containing 22½ pieces was valued at £15. A half-piece of 15 yards was worth 7s 6d, a full piece 15s. At these valuations it cannot be assumed that the bale contained, by calculation, 675 yards since that number valued by the piece was worth more than £15. For this reason it was decided to retain the original measure. A similar problem arose with flax, which was measured and valued by the pack, the dozen lbs, or the cwt. A pack contained 20 cwt, so it would have been consistent with the general practice in the calendar to convert the pack into this more meaningful unit. This was not done, however, because the valuations by the pack and by the cwt are unequal. The 'thousand' or 'M' also presents some difficulties. Normally it means ten hundredweight of 112 lbs; but this measure is hardly appropriate for commodities like pins and teazles, which seem to have been measured by number and not by weight. These and similar articles were presumably packed in standard-size containers, as were glass—by the case or chest as well as by the wey—and nails, which were shipped by the barrel. Cloth measures varied. Some were valued by the piece of so many yards or ells; in such cases the latter measures are given in the calendar. Other cloths were actually valued by these units. But there remain some cloths valued by the piece for which no measurement is given in the Book of Rates. As this is the basis and guide for all our conversions those cloths are recorded by the piece. And, generally, where the Book offers no guidance or leaves room for doubt the original measure is retained.

Spelling, transcription and dates

Spelling in the calendar has been modernised except for the names of ships and persons and in cases where the modern form was either unknown or clearly in doubt. This applies to some place-names and to commodities which escaped identification. An original spelling is indicated by single quotation marks. In the appendices, unless otherwise stated, the original spelling is kept but the punctuation has been modernised and abbreviations extended. The year has been reckoned to begin on 1 January.


In the interests of clarity, the index has been divided under the following heads:—

Masters. The master's domicile is given in round brackets.

Merchants. The description of their trade, domicile or nationality, is given when it appears in the document. It should be noted that a merchant may be given various designations or none at all.

Other persons. This includes persons mentioned in the introduction and appendices.

Places. Home-ports are distinguished from ports of departure by the phrases 'ship(s) of and 'ship(s) from'.


Subjects. For commodities see Appendix II where every commodity is listed with a reference to its first appearance in the text.

All references are to entries and not to pages unless preceded by the letter p. Only significant variations in spelling are noted.